SAN DIEGO – Joc Pederson epitomizes a new-age approach to hitting. He's not overly bothered by strikeouts and won't make contact for contact's sake. He is motivated to draw walks, which are far more fashionable than they once were. He digs the long ball and he has steadfastly refused to cut down on a massive, whip-like swing that sometimes forces him to one knee when he misses.
But there's a little more old-school in Pederson's game than many people realize. His father, Stu, was an outfielder in the Los Angeles Dodgers' system about 30 years before Joc broke into the major leagues. Before games, Joc Pederson sometimes practices a drill that isn't even taught these days.
He practices picking up a ball off the bat, putting down his head and sprinting to a spot on the field he thinks the ball will land, then turning around at the last minute to catch it. That allows Pederson to play faster than his natural athletic ability -- which is good, but not blinding -- would otherwise allow.
It won the Dodgers a game Sunday afternoon. Pederson sprinted straight back toward the wall on Justin Upton's drive to center field in the ninth inning, turned once, turned again and then caught it backhanded over his right shoulder before face-planting into the wall.
You may have seen it on SportsCenter or one of the other highlight shows. It might not have been the equal of Jim Edmonds' famous diving catch for sheer athleticism or Willie Mays' World Series grab for just plain greatness, but it was at that rare confluence of spectacular and meaningful that can infuse a sleepy game with a jolt of electricity.
"Just incredible," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said. "During the trade deadline, a lot of people were wanting to get rid of these guys, get rid of him. I'm glad they didn't."
Nobody scored thanks to Pederson's catch, the game went into extra innings and the Dodgers pulled it out in 12 innings on Adrian Gonzalez's RBI single, 4-2. That kept the Dodgers chugging right along, suddenly 3½ games up in the NL West, despite a stop-and-go offense and a series that wasn't all that satisfying aside from a few highlights.
"Very honestly, it was a sloppy series for us," Mattingly said. "I thought we made too many mistakes, but it's good to be able to steal a series when you do that."
Nobody thought Upton's blast was a home run, but nobody had any idea whether it would be caught. Catcher Yasmani Grandal had set up inside with Juan Nicasio pitching and he could tell by the sound it made off the bat that he hadn't hit it out. He wasn't sure whether Pederson had enough room to make the catch. Mattingly felt good about it, because Pederson normally takes direct routes and puts himself in the proper angles to make catches.
Pederson isn't big on verbalizing his accomplishments. He admitted the situation made it a big catch, and said, "The harder one is the line drive over your head, but it's up there for difficulty." He credited his dad and Dodgers outfield instructor Damon Mashore for refining his route running.
The way the Dodgers are hitting these days -- they won two of three while scoring nine runs in 30 innings -- they're going to need their defense and pitching to be on point. Mike Bolsinger's magical run finally came to an end in the fifth inning, when five straight San Diego hitters got on base, but the bullpen, sporadically effective in recent weeks, locked the game down with more than six scoreless innings.
Now, the Dodgers go to Texas where there is a good chance the hitters will have a chance to shine and the pitchers will find conditions maddening. The ability to catch the ball in the middle of the field will be just as important.